Russia to get an Ombudsman for the Disabled

Russia might get an Ombudsman for Disabled People’s Rights. President Putin  spoke of this at a conference of the
All-Russian National Front.  He said he
thought this could be discussed, decided on and a suitable candidate found.
Putin said support for people with disabilities was an important part of state
policy. So, along with the Ombudsmen for human rights, rights of the child and
consumer rights, there should be one for the disabled.

The project manager of the regional NGO for
disability Perspektiva, Mikhail Novikov, said this was a good idea, since at
present there was nobody responsible for dealing with problems affecting people
with disabilities. Responsibilities are dispersed between various authorities –
the Ministries of Labour, Health, Education, and so on. So their actions are
not coordinated, and thus change for the better is very slow and people suffer
as a result. For example, the problem of homes for disabled people. If a child
in a home has no relatives, when they leave the children’s home they are sent
straight to a care home for adults. In effect these are homes for the elderly,
and there is no way of getting out of these places. The person may have been
capable of being educated and having a job, but they are written off. Novikov
said that abroad there are programmes for integration and support for children
with disabilities. Russia has ratified the Convention of the International
Labour Organisation on the Rights of Disabled Persons. It provides for reorganising
such homes so that people with disabilities are included in society. For four
years Russia has been reporting to the UN that it is undertaking such reforms.
But in practice little has been done, so an Ombudsman could help to move
matters forward more quickly.

Russia’s social welfare system is based on the
idea of protection of people with disabilities, but what is really needed is
for them to have equal opportunities. Someone is needed with the authority to
coordinate all the ministries’ activities. The fact is that the rights of such
people are routinely breached. For example the category of disability of a
person is changed if he/she gets an education or a job, even though their actual
condition might not have changed at all. In fact the state of a person’s health
is supposed to be the basis for the different levels/categories of disability.
In addition it is very hard for someone with a disability to defend themselves
in a court of law. Not least because very often they cannot actually access the
court room because of steps. Many people who use wheelchairs live on upper
floors of apartment blocks with no lift, and local authorities are reluctant to
re-house them in a ground floor flat or install a lift. As a  result they are prisoners. And they
experience many other problems.

The person chosen to be ombudsman should be
someone really knowledgeable about the issues with years of experience in the
field. At present people involved in such work often know nothing about
disability. For some reason it is thought that any civil servant can do such
work. But that is not the case. Real knowledge and professionalism is need,
according to Mr Novikov.

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